Peace Time: March 6, 2002

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: You'd think if there were one thing the military could build themselves, it would be wargames. Such has not been the case. The U.S. military's experience with over games over the last 150 years has been quite dismal, with only the Navy proving capable of building most of their own stuff. 

But in the 1960s, wargames became a popular entertainment for the civilian market. Initially, most of these wargames were based on historical campaigns and were pretty effective simulations. The reason for was that, unlike the often classified military wargames, the civilian ones were open to comment and criticism from their thousands of users. This kept the civilian wargame designers honest and on the ball. 

By the 1970s, the military began to notice the superiority of the civilian wargames and began to use them, and called on the civilian wargame designers to help out with military projects. All this operated largely in the background for decades, but in the 1990s the cooperation intensified. Part of this had to do with the civilian wargame (and action games in general) publishers developing inexpensive and realistic graphic software. Anyone who has played video or computer games knows what this stuff looks like, and it's stunning. This visual realism makes these computer games much more useful for training the troops. 

Currently there are numerous civilian-military wargame projects in the works. The Marines are using the technology in the civilian game Operation Flashpoint to develop their VBS1 (Virtual BattleField Systems, see http://www.virtualbattlefieldsystem.com/ ). As is usually the case, the Marines are using the civilian developers of the game to modify the civilian game for specific Marine needs. 

Many Department of Defense schools use civilian wargames for training. At West Point, for example, cadets use the commercial wargame Steel Beasts to learn mechanized wargames tactics. Again, the civilians who created the game have worked with the army to modify the game for more effectively meet Army training needs. The Army is also working with developers of games for the Microsoft X-Box game console to create a game for small infantry units. Another Army project is developing a PC wargame for infantry company commanders (http://www.quicksilver.com/news/release_102601.html). 

The Army also bought a license for a tactical level game, TacOps (designed and programmed by a retired Marine officer), for use throughout the Army (anyone in the Army can get a copy free). Another PC game, Spearhead, was modified for use in training tank officers. The air force has long been a user of civilian combat flight simulator games, and pilots hone their skills using networked versions of these games. The Air Force also makes use of it's many technically savvy members to program their own wargames, often using commercial products as a model. The navy also makes use of flight and naval wargames, which have become popular with sailors on long overseas deployments. There's not much else to do on a ship for entertainment. 

The entertainment angle is one reason the commercial game developers are sought out for assistance and advice. Commercial products must draw the player in, something Department of Defense designed wargames don't always do. Along these lines, and noting that more portable Gameboys are sold than game consoles, the army is developing a multiplayer game using a PDA and a wireless network. Yet, many of the Department of Defense produced wargames remain, but these at least let the troops know how much better things can be, by comparison, when they use wargames created with the help of commercial wargame firms. 

 


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